Published Online: March 30, 2012

'Occupy' Action Critiques Testing, Targets Ed. Dept.

Educators and advocates from around the country are scheduled to convene in Washington today for four days of rallies, marches, and talks taking aim at what they see as problems with high-stakes testing and the “corporatization” of public schools.

Dubbed “Occupy the DOE”—for its target, the U.S. Department of Education—the event is being portrayed as a way to build on last summer’s Save Our Schools event, which drew people to the nation’s capital for a high-profile demonstration and meetings focusing on many of the same themes.

“This is a sister event, or a continuation,” said Occupy the DOE co-organizer Ceresta Smith, a teacher from Miami. She is also a co-founder of the event’s sponsoring group, United Opt Out, which encourages parents to “opt out” of having their children take part in standardized testing. “The difference is our major focus on the high-stakes testing,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Smith said the Occupy event is intended to be more “grassroots” than Save Our Schools, as it might appeal to parents and teachers around the country who are concerned about high-stakes testing. She said the group’s concerns were particularly relevant to minorities. She asserted that such tests tend to have a cultural bias and that the consequences of testing for low-performing schools and teachers disproportionately affect minority children.

Timothy D. Slekar, an associate professor of teacher education at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona campus and another of the event’s organizers, expanded on the criticisms. “High-stakes testing is being used punitively for schools, for teachers, and for children, and there’s not a single piece of research with credibility in the testing world that condones this type of use of testing,” he said.

Marches Scheduled

Though the event borrowed its moniker from the nationwide Occupy movement, with its Occupy Wall Street and other protests focused on income inequality, the education protesters are not adopting that movement’s strategy of camping out in public spaces overnight. They do plan to maintain a presence in the plaza by the Education Department during the day on all four days of the rally.

The Occupy the DOE participants plan to rally Friday morning at a plaza near the department and march toward Capitol Hill in the afternoon. The agenda also includes a meeting planned with a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to discuss, among other ideas, creating a model opt-out policy that would protect parents who prefer that their children not be tested.

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Over the weekend, participants can attend movies, workshops, and talks on topics ranging from grassroots organizing to the Teach For America program to misuses of data. On Monday, they plan to march to the White House before ending their occupation back on the plaza.

Unlike their Save Our Schools counterparts last year, the organizers do not plan to meet officially with representatives of the Education Department, whom Mr. Slekar described as being against their cause.

But, according to Liz Utrup, the department’s assistant press secretary, “department staff will be available Friday and Monday to visit with Occupy demonstrators and learn more about the education issues that matter most to them, their families, and their communities.”

The goal of the event, said Mr. Slekar, is “to make sure anybody who attends leaves with a deep understanding of what the Opt Out movement is about—understanding the nature of punitive high-stakes testing and realizing that the only way to stop it is to demand that it stops.”

Vol. 31, Issue 27

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